Saturday, September 30, 2023

New agency to focus on emerging threats to public health

A new emerging health threats agency will focus on infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness and other emerging threats to public health, the Government has announced.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said he will appoint an expert to design the new agency after the body received Cabinet approval.

The agency will build on existing assets and infrastructure and a proposal on the scope and functions of the agency will be brought to the Government within six months, while public health capacity in the Department of Health will be strengthened through the immediate allocation of additional expertise to the office of the Chief Medical Officer.

The agency announcement follows consideration of the report of the Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group, which was published this week.

The group, chaired by the president of Imperial College London, Prof Hugh Brady, was tasked with identifying lessons from the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland. It was also asked to consider international best practice in making recommendations for measures to strengthen health protection and improve future public health pandemic preparedness specifically.

It concluded that Ireland performed well in response to Covid-19, highlighting the fact that Ireland’s excess mortality was among the lowest in Europe and globally.

While the cumulative case rate in Ireland was in line with the EU-27 average, surges in hospitalisations were of a lower and shorter duration than those experienced by many European countries.

It also highlighted how Ireland’s vaccination rates were among the highest in Europe and emphasised the importance of the collective commitment of the public health workforce to the Covid-19 response.

“I welcome the findings of the group and their recognition of the leading role that the public health workforce has to play in protecting the population, preventing ill-health and promoting wellbeing,” Chief Medical Officer Prof Breda Smyth said.

“We have seen the impact of Covid-19 on all parts of our society and in particular on our most vulnerable citizens. We must continue to work together to be prepared for future emerging health threats.

“In addition to Covid-19 we have seen the risk posed by other recent emerging health threats, including the emergence of Mpox in 2022, recent outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg disease internationally, and ongoing global surveillance of the evolving threat posed by avian influenza, and the risk to human health. I welcome the Government’s commitment to strengthening pandemic preparedness and preparedness for other emerging health threats and to strengthening my office to lead this work.”

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